On Friday, I wrote an item ("The 3-Word Phrase That Signals Obama's Intentions on Taxes") about how a number of Democrats on the Hill were relieved to hear President Obama say, in his recent budget speech, that it was necessary to raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires"--relieved because many of them worried he had drifted too far to the right, and might no longer be committed to tax increases on the wealthy as a way to trim the national debt. Hearing Obama invoke "millionaires and billionaires" was understood by these Democrats to be a signal (or a dog-whistle, if you prefer) that he wasn't backing down: polls show that the public is most receptive to raising taxes when the issue is framed this way, so Obama was signaling that he means business. That doesn't guarantee he'll follow through; he used the phrase plenty last year, and still signed a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans (which he'd opposed) and everyone else (which he'd supported). But it's a clear sign of where he stands today. And the phrase, along with all the apprehension surrounding it, provides an interesting glimpse at the tensions between Democrats over raising taxes.
Judging from the comments and emails that piled up over the weekend, most people didn't read the item that way. In fact, I can draw two conclusions: First, a lot of people spent Easter weekend in a spirit other than that of Christian fellowship and goodwill toward men. Second, a lot of them seem to think that they're the ones being persecuted, that by seeking to increase taxes on the wealthy Obama is engaging in--gasp!--"class warfare." I've always loved that phrase because it's such potent hyperbole, the product of expensive focus grouping and crafty political wordsmithery as surely as is the phrase "millionaires and billionaires," except "class warfare" has that extra dimension of apocalyptic consequence and the undertone of victimization that work so well together even though they shouldn't, like sweet-and-sour soup.
But I gather few others share my connoisseur's appreciation. Most of my correspondents appear to take the phrase literally and believe they are being unfairly and maliciously attacked. I'd guess that by and large they're not millionaires or billionaires themselves. Instead, most display the same anguished indignation that got University of Chicago professor Todd Henderson into such trouble after he worked himself into a lather about how unfair it was that he--a mere university professor scraping by on an income of several hundred thousand dollars a year--might be expected to chip in a bit more. Here's a representative example from my in box:
As a journalist, why don't you ask the obvious question about what makes a married couple earning $250,000 per year a millionaire or a billionaire?
Is it that political demagoguery from a Democrat is more palatable than from a Republican?
Obama is being cynical and dishonest and the mainstream political press is his willing accomplice.
This sort of thinking always makes me want to haul out my fainting couch. Because crying "demagoguery" and "class warfare," and really meaning it, is just silly.
Politics is and always has been a competition between different classes and interest groups for finite government resources. Everybody harnesses their best argument for growing or defending their slice of the pie, whether it's "millionaires and billionaires" or "welfare queens." And it's worth noting that millionaires and billionaires have fared particularly well relative to other groups. According to the IRS, the average federal income tax rate for the richest Americans dropped from 26 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 2007, the most recent data available. So if you're inclined to think in terms of "warfare," which I'm not, it's clear who's been winning the war.
To address the question above, married couples who make $250,000 a year or more--the line at which Obama would raise taxes--are not millionaires or billionaires. (I'm no math whiz, but I'd have thought this obvious.) By any reasonable definition, though, they're still rich: income-wise, they rank in the top 2.5 percent of American households. Maybe it's residual Easter spirit, but I suppose that, if pressed, I could muster a smidgen more sympathy for the Todd Hendersons of the world than for the yacht owners and mansion-dwellers. But they're still far better off than most people, so it's hard to feel bad for them.
Here's the other thing: While the type of people writing in reflexively view any prospective increase in their tax rates as "class warfare," they don't apply that label to other attempts to reapportion resources--even radical ones, like Paul Ryan's budget, which is now the official position of House Republicans. If Obama's desire to nudge up tax rates on the wealthy is class warfare against the rich, then surely Paul Ryan's plan to shift the burden of growing healthcare costs from government to citizens by privatizing Medicare and block-granting Medicaid is class warfare against the poor and middle class. Strange that none of my correspondents pointed this out!
But as I said, I think the whole thing is silly. Let's stop hyperventilating about "class warfare" and call it by its proper name: politics.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Maya Arulpragasam is a famous rapper, singer, designer, producer, and refugee. When she was 9, her mother and siblings fled violence in Sri Lanka and came to London, and the experience was formative for her art. As she explained to The Guardian in 2005 after the release of her debut Arular, “I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”
That goal—to glorify people and practices that the developed world marginalizes—has been a constant in her career. Her new music video tackles it in a particularly literal and urgent way, not only by showing solidarity with refugees at a moment when they’re extremely controversial in the West, but also by posing a simple question to listeners: Whose lives do you value?
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
The year after my father died, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
That same week I got a call from my mom—she was struggling to pay off my dad’s funeral expenses. I looked at my “House Fund” and sighed. Then I deleted it and typed the words “Funeral Fund” instead.
My father’s passing was unexpected. And so was the financial burden that came with it.
For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren’t an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, they’re spending money on basic necessities and often helping out family. Their financial future is a rocky one, and much of it comes down to how much—or how little—assistance they receive.
To solve climate change, we need to reimagine our entire relationship to the nonhuman world.
Humans were once a fairly average species of large mammals, living off the land with little effect on it. But in recent millennia, our relationship with the natural world has changed as dramatically as our perception of it.
There are now more than 7 billion people on this planet, drinking its water, eating its plants and animals, and mining its raw materials to build and power our tools. These everyday activities might seem trivial from the perspective of any one individual, but aggregated together they promise to leave lasting imprints on the Earth. Human power is now geological in scope—and if we are to avoid making a mess of this, our only home, our politics must catch up.
Making this shift will require a radical change in how we think about our relationship to the natural world. That may sound like cause for despair. After all, many people refuse to admit that environmental crises like climate change exist at all. But as Jedediah Purdy reminds us in his dazzling new book, After Nature, our relationship with the nonhuman world has proved flexible over time. People have imagined nature in a great many ways across history.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The generation has been called lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. Their bosses beg to differ.
Yes, many Millennials are still crashing on their parent’s couches. And there’s data to support the claim that they generally want more perks but less face time, and that they hope to rise quickly but don’t stick around for very long. Millennials have also been pretty vocal about their desire to have more flexible jobs and more leave time.
But does all of this mean that all Millennials are actually worse workers?
Laura Olin, a digital campaigner who ran social-media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, says that’s not been her experience. “You always hear about Millennials supposedly being entitled and needing coddling, but the ones I’ve encountered have been incredibly hard-working and recognize that they need to pay their dues.”
Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other presidential contenders appease Donald Trump at their own peril.
Give Donald Trump this: He has taught Americans something about the candidates he’s running against. He has exposed many of them as political cowards.
In August, after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and vowed to build a wall along America’s southern border, Jeb Bush traveled to South Texas to respond. Bush’s wife is Mexican American; he has said he’s “immersed in the immigrant experience”; he has even claimed to be Hispanic himself. Yet he didn’t call Trump’s proposals immoral or bigoted, since that might offend Trump’s nativist base. Instead, Bush declared: “Mr. Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles. His proposal is unrealistic. It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” In other words, demonizing and rounding up undocumented Mexican immigrants is fine, so long as it’s done cheap.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack.
While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack. In keeping with pre-Germanic Pagan traditions, men dressed as these demons have been frightening children on Krampusnacht for centuries, chasing them and hitting them with sticks, on an (often alcohol-fueled) run through the dark streets.
What I learned from attending a town-hall meeting and listening to students’ concerns
Sometimes it takes a group of young people to set you straight.
For months now, I’ve been reading about college students who’ve been seeking “safe spaces.” They’ve often been met by derision—even the highest ranked Urban Dictionary definition is mired in sarcasm, describing them as having “pillows” and “soothing music” that “allows them to recover from the trauma... of exposure to ideas that conflict with their leftist professors.”
I also had some mid-life skepticism about teenage hyperbole, that is, until I attended a town hall meeting at Duke University (my alma mater) earlier this month. The “community conversation,” as it was called, had been hastily convened to discuss the rash of racist and homophobic incidents on campus. Listening to those students—and watching their expressions—I realized that what’s been happening at Duke is serious, and no amount of sarcasm can disguise the pain and anger on campus, or cover up the real dangers lurking there.